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Friday, January 28, 2011

2 Minutes in the box with Mike Paliotta

U.S. NTDP defenseman Michael Paliotta is in his second season with the program after leaving his home in Westport, Connecticut and the Choate Rosemary Hall Wild Boars for the bigger challenge in Ann Arbor and the USHL (and NCAA and international play).

The 6-3, 196-pounder has good mobility and sound defensive instincts. His stock is a little down more because of the outstanding play of other 2011 draft prospects than anything he is or isn't doing. The lack of production is probably the biggest thing, but with Paliotta, he's got the size and wheels, so he shouldn't be on the board very long. First-round pick? Debateable. He's going to have to come on strong in the second half to do that, and a strong Four Nations and Under-18 Championship tourneys would go a long way to boosting his stock.

Bob McKenzie's mid-season TSN ranking had him closer to the end of the second round, which could very well be where he lands, but not a bad place for him to be.

I caught up to him recently to get his thoughts on his season, the program, and other things of note.

Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Talk to us about who you are as a player and what you bring to the table for NHL team that drafts you.

Mike Paliotta: I’m a big, mobile defenseman that moves the puck well. I have a strong shot from the point and see the ice pretty well. I like to be physical, and my goal is to be a tough player to play against every time I’m out there.

B2011DW: So, you're a pretty physical player then?

MP: I would say so. I've got good size and have been working hard in the off-ice program here to build up my strength. I think playing against older, stronger players in the USHL and NCAA has definitely helped me in my own game and now in my second year here, I've learned a lot about leverage and using my size to make contact and separate players from the puck. It's something I would say I've gotten better at, but like anything else, I'm continuing to work on to try and improve.

B2011DW: What was the driving force behind your decision to leave home and the Founder's League in preps to join the NTDP?

MP: I felt like it was almost an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. In the long run, I think I’ll definitely benefit from playing against tougher competition. It’s a much higher level than prep hockey was, so as difficult as it was to leave my family and team, I’m pretty happy with how things are going.

B2011DW: How was the transition from being a pretty accomplished prep player to being on a team of highly-skilled players from around the country going up against older, more experienced players in the USHL and NCAA as well as international competition?

MP: That's pretty much it, right there. The older, stronger, more skilled players presented a pretty tough challenge at first. My (Under-17) year was a challenging time for the entire team. Playing against 20-year-olds in the USHL for any 16-year-old is definitely an adjustment to step in and play at a high level right away. It was tough at first not winning any games, and it was tough to get acclimated.

B2011DW: You committed to the University of Vermont. Why the Catamounts as opposed to the other schools who pursued you?

MP: I’d say the biggest thing was the coaching staff. They’ve built a winning program that attracts top players. Also, going back to the East Coast was important to me. I wanted to be closer to my family and being about four hours away from my town in Connecticut is just right.

B2011DW: So, growing up in Connecticut were you a Rangers fan? Whalers? Bruins?

MP: Definitely Rangers. I'm a huge Rangers fan. Guys like Brian Leetch and Mark Messier were big favorites of mine growing up. And obviously, Wayne Gretzky when he was with the team. I've always tried to emulate those guys for their professionalism and great play.

B2011DW: Have you ever met Brian Leetch? He's a fellow Nutmeg stater after all...

MP: No, I haven't had the opportunity to meet him, but he was definitely one of my favorite players and from what I've seen of him in interviews and other things, he seems like a great guy.

Paliotta is the consensus top New England-born player available in the 2011 NHL Draft, and he just might be flying under the radar a little more than he should. This spring will be a big test for him, but he's a bright, mature kid who is headed to a potential powerhouse Vermont team (in the next few years) in the fall.

He's certainly a player to keep an eye on, even if he may not have as high an upside as some of the other defensemen in this class.

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